NCF Nation: Chuck Martin

Notre Dame spring preview

March, 5, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The keys to Notre Dame's future arrived Monday, when Everett Golson took the field for the first time in nearly a year as the Irish opened their fifth spring practice under Brian Kelly.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesThe Irish offense hopes to benefit from the return of quarterback Everett Golson.
This spring will probably not look all that different from last spring, when Golson, coming off a redshirt freshman season that ended in the BCS title game, was officially handed complete control of the vehicle that was Kelly's offense before being exiled the following fall for an academic mishap. Yet the Irish may be shorter on all-around playmakers this spring than they were last year.

But with Golson back -- 15 pounds heavier and seemingly much more mature after spending two months with well-known quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr. in San Diego -- it is finally all in for Notre Dame. Its fan base has been anxiously awaiting the offensive theatrics that a Kelly team last displayed five years ago at Cincinnati, and the most important component to that is Golson.

"Absolutely," Kelly said, speaking about the quarterback position, specifically. "Your offensive line has to play well; it has to protect the quarterback. We've got to run the ball effectively, take care of it. But I think we all know college football and where it is: The quarterback is really going to be the centerpiece of this offense and the way we run it. It's going to fall on him.

"We all live in the same world when it comes to the Notre Dame quarterback. We're going to heap a lot on this kid's shoulders. And he knows that. That's why he came back to Notre Dame, because he wants that. Clearly, he's going to be the one that drives this for us."

Replacing the top protectors of Golson (and every other QB of the Kelly era) is paramount, as stalwarts Zack Martin and Chris Watt are gone after manning the left side of the line so well together for more than three years.

Finding reliable weapons in a passing game down its top three pass-catchers from last season is important, too. (One of those targets, DaVaris Daniels, is expected back this summer after making a Golson-like academic gaffe.)

Defensively, potential first-round picks Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix are gone, as are three of the four starting linebackers. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco -- along with offensive playcaller Chuck Martin -- are gone, and longtime college and NFL veteran Brian VanGorder brings aboard the potential for a more aggressive defense, which should complement a much more aggressive offense.

A running game that lacked punch at times last year will be greatly strengthened by the dimension presented by Golson's legs, which he says got quicker despite the added weight.

It is weight his body and mind are ready to carry as he looks to bring Notre Dame's offense to a place it has longed for.

"I think if leadership ability is in you, it'll show eventually when you're called on," Golson said. "I think only being a freshman, I was still leading to a certain extent. I think now it's more heightened, I would say, because our team is so young this year. But it's been great. That's the spot that I want to be at and I was kind of born to be at, I would say, in a sense. So when it happens, leadership steps to the front."

New Era Pinstripe Bowl preview

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
9:00
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Rutgers and Notre Dame take the Yankee Stadium field at noon ET today (ESPN) with the George M. Steinbrenner Trophy on the line. Here is a preview of the action today from the Bronx, N.Y.:

Who to watch: TJ Jones is playing in his final college game. Notre Dame's team MVP from this season has caught 65 balls for 1,042 yards with nine touchdowns, becoming Tommy Rees' most reliable target. And he is facing a Rutgers defense that has been susceptible to the big play, as the Scarlet Knights have allowed an FBS-high 153 pass plays of 10 or more yards, an average of 13 per game. Look for Rees and Jones to connect early and often.

What to watch: This could also be Stephon Tuitt's final game. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound end is a nightmare for offensive linemen, tallying 18 sacks over the past two seasons. Seeing how much he -- along with a now-healthy Sheldon Day opposite him and what is likely to be a revolving door in the middle at nose guard -- can pressure Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd into mistakes will probably dictate the flow of this game. The Scarlet Knights are tied for 98th nationally in sacks allowed, surrendering 2.58 per game, and Saturday could provide a nice opportunity for Tuitt to leave a final impression on NFL scouts, as the draft advisory board gave the junior a second-round grade, according to Brian Kelly.

Why to watch: This is the finale for a group of Notre Dame seniors who have, in large part, turned the program around. Many committed to the Charlie Weis regime -- or, in some cases, to no coach at all before Kelly was hired. They have gotten the Irish to a point where Pinstripe Bowl berths and eight- or nine-win seasons are disappointments, and they are a big reason why Kelly, the fourth-year coach, gave them such a strong say in where they would go bowling once a BCS bid was off the table. This could, in theory, be an audition for the Irish's two interim coordinators as well, as Mike Denbrock (offense) and Kerry Cooks (defense) will run their units after Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco left for head-coaching jobs at Miami (Ohio) and UConn, respectively.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Rutgers 14. The Irish offense will have its way with an uncharacteristically bad Scarlet Knight defense (one that is also with an interim coordinator, in Joe Rossi).
Kyle Flood was answering a question about his depleted staff on Tuesday when Brian Kelly chipped in a few minutes later with his unsolicited take.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsDespite losing both coordinators, the Irish are in good hands with Brian Kelly.
"And just to add on to Kyle's situations with his staff," the Notre Dame coach said at Yankee Stadium. "I just want to let him know he's got too many staff members. When I was at Cincinnati, we had three staff members and we coached in the bowl game against Western Michigan, so you've got way too many. And we won that game, so I think he's fine. I don't think you have to worry about him having not enough coaches."

At this rate, it would be easy to say that the concerns now fall on Kelly, who lost his second coordinator to a head-coaching job in an eight-day span Wednesday when Bob Diaco accepted the UConn post. That came in the wake of Chuck Martin packing his bags for Miami (Ohio). The moves hamstring the Irish staff as it readies for Rutgers on Dec. 28's New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and as it gears up for the mad dash to national signing day in the 39 days following the 2013 finale.

The initial reaction across players and fans, per routine, was overreaction. Tweets decrying Diaco for looking out for himself were soon deleted, eventually giving way to more and more congratulatory remarks for a man whose next career step was only a matter of time.

Make no mistake, this is far from the situation that is taking place in Piscataway, N.J., where Flood, the second-year head coach, let go of three assistants after an underwhelming 6-6 campaign. The Scarlet Knights step into the Big Ten next season. And this is far from the case that Kelly was referencing in that bowl press conference, as he had just taken the Cincinnati job and had only three of his Central Michigan assistants with him by the time the Bearcats faced, and defeated, Western Michigan in the International Bowl nearly seven years ago.

"It certainly creates a little bit of a challenge," Flood said of Rutgers' situation, "but I'm confident that people are put in positions where they can be successful, and that's really my job as the head football coach, to make sure we got a coach assigned at every position and in all three phases and the coordinator role."

Kelly's challenge is considerably smaller. This is Notre Dame, after all. Initial reaction among recruits speaks to that, with most youngsters recognizing that much of what they were promised remains in place so long as Kelly is at the forefront. If Diaco does not bring along other Irish assistants with him to Storrs, Conn., Kelly will have a much easier time filling the holes on his staff. Kerry Cooks, let's not forget, has also been the co-defensive coordinator these past two years, and he will probably take on Diaco's responsibilities for (at least) the rest of the month.

The fact this Notre Dame team went 8-4 and had its top two assistants get hired to run their own shows speaks volumes about where the program is now. Jimbo Fisher lost seven assistants in a season that ended with Florida State winning the Orange Bowl, and the Seminoles have turned out oh-so fine in the year since. This is a good problem to have, and as IrishIllustrated's Pete Sampson said, one coordinator leaving right after the other could trigger an eventful race back to South Bend to occupy Kelly's office whenever he should depart.

That's down the road. For now, the calendar has 19 days remaining in a year that began with a letdown against Alabama in the national title game and will likely end with a win against Rutgers -- with plenty of embarrassment (Manti Te'o, Everett Golson) and departures (Gunner Kiel, two receivers) sandwiched in-between.

As they did in this past year, the Irish will enter 2014 hoping to close whatever gap remains toward a national title. And while Jameis Winston isn't walking through that door, the two most important elements of that chase, Kelly and Golson, still are.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tommy Rees has control over Notre Dame's destiny for yet another season. And yes, the same was true last season, when he started just twice and made a handful of cameos despite relinquishing full-time No. 1 duties to Everett Golson.

"He was a backup quarterback, he was an assistant coach and kind of made everything go," Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "If he would've taken a different stance, the whole season's probably completely different. I mean, he could've easily ruined the whole deal for everybody."

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesTommy Rees served as a backup last season and declined to transfer. Now he's the starter.
And he could have done the same after the season, with Golson deemed the quarterback of the future and with playing time looking more scarce for the ever-reliable next-man-in.

How things have played out since then illustrates just how beneficial it has been for the Irish to have a signal caller like Rees, whose contingent got its wish when he replaced Dayne Crist in the 2011 home opener, only to turn on him when he replaced Golson late in the 2012 home opener.

"When you win 12, they don't remember what happened the second game of the year," Martin said. "You guys do, we do, but a lot of the fans don't. They forgot that they were booing him. They forgot that it's hard to lead a two-minute drive at home when you're getting booed off the field."

Rest assured, Rees will be a major factor in another Notre Dame Stadium opener this Saturday against Temple, after Golson was hit with a semester suspension from school in May for academic misconduct.

And Notre Dame hopes the lessons Rees learned from a 12-month period that began with a suspension of his own and culminated with the senior in command of the offense once more can help serve a program looking to turn last year's meteoric rise into something resembling the norm.

"I probably should give a lot of credit to my parents, the way I was raised," Rees said of the way he's handled his career. "I love my teammates. I love the guys that I'm out there with every day, so for me there's not really another option. You've just got to stay prepared, and when the moment comes for you, you've got to be ready for those guys, because you count on them, they count on you, and that's really what our team's been built on. People say it's a family all the time, but until you're a part of it and until you feel how close this group is, it's kind of hard to explain."

Perhaps tellingly enough, not a single question among the 42 asked during head coach Brian Kelly's 42-minute Tuesday press conference was about Rees.

[+] EnlargeConnor Reilly
Courtesy of Mitchell LeffConnor Reilly, known for leading Temple onto the field, now will lead the Owls as quarterback.
For once, the closest thing to a quarterback drama comes from the visiting sideline, where Connor Reilly will start for Temple, winning over new coach Matt Rhule after entering the spring at No. 4 on the depth chart.

Interestingly enough, Reilly's father, Lt. Col. Neil Reilly, grew up in Rees' hometown of Lake Bluff, Ill. The connection between the two quarterbacks has led some in the 5,000-person community to label Saturday's tilt as the "Lake Bluff Bowl."

More importantly, Neil Reilly recently served with the Army in Afghanistan, and he flew a Temple flag over his battalion while deployed.

Connor Reilly repays the gesture by running onto the field before each game waving the same U.S. flag that his father flew as a squadron commander in the Army on several missions in Afghanistan.

"It's a really cool honor to do that for my dad, because I know he does that and serves and honors and protects my country," Connor Reilly said.

Kelly says extension is imminent

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly's contract extension might be imminent.

The fourth-year Notre Dame coach revealed as much Friday during his camp-opening news conference, saying he agreed to terms in December and that legal language is all that has gotten in the way of anything becoming official.

The topic of Kelly's long-term future with the Irish gained steamed following his meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles in the days after his team's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick has said since that both parties have been working on a decision.

Though no true time frame was given, Swarbrick has mentioned the last extension given to men's basketball coach Mike Brey, who turned down overtures in the spring of 2011, but had no official announcement from the school about a new deal until June of 2012.

Kelly admitted Friday that the process does not always go as quickly as he likes, but that he has never used leverage in contract talks to get the school to do something.

"If I had to do that, I would not be here," Kelly said.

Kelly's last extension came following the 2011 season, a two-year deal that locked him up at Notre Dame through 2016.

He re-iterated Friday that his goal is to get Notre Dame back to where it was during its renaissance 2012 campaign, and finish the deal this time.

"Everything we worked on since that next day -- and I mean the next day -- is about getting back to the national championship game and winning it," Kelly said Friday.

Notes: Former basketball player Joey Brooks is no longer with the team after working in the spring as a tight end. … Louis Nix is up to 357 pounds, 10 pounds heavier than he was listed in the spring. … Kelly said he expects Everett Golson back at Notre Dame in January, and that the suspended quarterback talks with offensive coordinator Chuck Martin almost daily. … Kelly wants freshman Malik Zaire to work with the regular quarterbacks and not the scout team.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Big Louis Nix entered the media room in Notre Dame Stadium and was immediately intercepted by sports information director Michael Bertsch.

"You know quarterbacks go to the podium," Bertsch said.

Up Nix went to the center of the cramped room, facing a throng of media members who generally hang on his every word anyway, given the fourth-year junior's penchant for saying whatever in the world is on his mind at that moment.

One such instance came early in the 2012 season, when Nix explained how younger brother Kenneth, one of his 13 siblings, had told classmates during a presentation in Jacksonville, Fla., that his big brother was the Fighting Irish's quarterback.

Nix had no idea where that idea came from, but then joked that he would love to be inserted as a Wildcat-only signal caller in the "Irish Chocolate" package, an ode to his nickname.

His dream came to fruition during the fourth quarter of Notre Dame's Blue-Gold spring game Saturday before 31,652 fans, as Nix lined up in the backfield for a two-point conversion following the game's only touchdown. He took the shotgun snap and galloped into the end zone untouched for the score, continuing the roll he has been on in the past year.

"I really am a quarterback," Nix said. "I told you guys it would happen and it did."

That was Louis Nix being Louis Nix; as he provided a refreshing spark to a ho-hum exhibition on a 38-degree April afternoon. He was Notre Dame's best defensive player on the nation's biggest stage this past Jan. 7 against Alabama, and he was the anchor of a defense that happened to feature the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

By playing even bigger than his out-sized personality -- a trait that turned his every word into a soundbite and made his video news series a YouTube sensation -- Nix faced a decision that would have changed the lives of everyone back inside his family's three-bedroom home.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLouis Nix capped off Notre Dame's spring game with a two-point conversion in the Blue-Gold Game.
Last spring Nix publicly expressed feelings of homesickness, as he fell into a rut and lost his spot on the first team to Kona Schwenke. But the film, television and theatre major thought back to senior night four years ago at Raines (Fla.) High School, when he was the only player who took the field without a loved one. His mom, Stephanie Wingfield had a shift at a hospital cafeteria that night and cried when she found out her son had taken the field alone. She begged him to stay in college, earn his degree and celebrate senior day with her.

The decision to stay ensures that the senior day moment will happen. The play that highlighted Saturday's scrimmage served as proof that he is on the right track in the classroom.

Nix's two-point conversion was the result of an academic wager he made with head coach Brian Kelly, who credited the conversion to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and his new responsibilities as play-caller heading into the 2013 season.

"He surprised me, and so I paid up," Kelly said of Nix. "I said, 'What do you want?' I figured he would want something. He came up: 'I want to score a touchdown in the spring game.' As you know, we had a hard time scoring touchdowns in the spring game and I didn't think that was going to come to reality."

So Nix went up to quarterback Malik Zaire with 14:05 left in the contest, ordering the early-enrollee to get him to the promised land. Six plays and four minutes, 55 seconds later, C.J. Prosise was in the end zone with a 35-yard touchdown reception, allowing the blue-jerseyed Nix to step into the huddle with his white-jerseyed teammates. It set off a minor social media celebration of a FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN. (Or, in this case, a FAT GUY CONVERSION.)

Is this something Temple needs to scheme against come the teams' Aug. 31 opener?

"That's what all teams need to be scared of. Everybody needs to be scared of Irish Chocolate," Nix said.

"Everyone," he continued, staring at the reporter who had inquired, "including you."

The defense charged with stopping the play certainly seemed scared, though it adjusted enough to keep the new quarterback from beating them with his arm.

"I just made a few checks or whatever. You couldn't hear them. They were silent checks," Nix said. "I just told them where to line up, give me a nice pass-block. My O-line did a great job, that's why I was successful."

Or simply because he looked up, stared at nothing but daylight and entered a state of shock, with linebacker Kendall Moore getting the heck out of the way once Nix committed to running straight ahead.

"I saw fear in his eyes," Nix said of Moore.

George Atkinson III said afterward that Everett Golson should worry about losing his job. Fellow defenders expressed relief that they will never have to face Nix again.

But that might not be the case, not if Nix continues to ride this surge.

"It's a dream of mine to happen [in a game], hopefully it does -- hopefully Coach thinks I can handle the ball," he said.

"I'm 305 right now," the listed 347-pounder deadpanned. "If I gain a few pounds, maybe he'll just hand me the ball off."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With his first spring as The Guy at Notre Dame winding down, Everett Golson is scaling back.

He has had to do this before, whether it was relearning a few things after a rocky home debut last season or spending more time in the athletic trainer's room than he would have liked after his relatively small frame took too many hits throughout 2012.

But with Season 1 as Notre Dame's starting quarterback in the rear-view mirror, with the experience of a national title game under his belt and with outside starting threat Gunner Kiel off to Cincinnati, Golson, at times, simply has not stopped talking.

[+] EnlargeGolson
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly is impressed with Everett Golson as the quarterback prepares for his second season as the starter. "His communication and command and his leadership has been evident as we started spring ball," Kelly says.
Now the fun begins for the Fighting Irish offense, a unit that faces at least the possibility of having the same man directing it for 39 more games, this after each of coach Brian Kelly's previous three springs with the program began with quarterback uncertainty.

"I don’t know that you could even put him in the same category with where he started last year to where he is now," Kelly said of Golson. "Strong command of our offense. I think where we’re at with him more than anything else is we have to now begin to pull back a little bit. He wants to do a little bit too much. He knows his toolbox very well. He didn’t know anything relative to what he had for tools last year in terms of what he could do with the offense.

"Now, he wants to maybe do a little too much, so we’re at a totally different point in his development. I think the thing that stands out the most to me, though, is his command. His communication and command and his leadership has been evident as we started spring ball."

Whereas Golson entered last spring as one of four candidates fighting for the starting job, this year, he is being more assertive, taking coaching better and strengthening his relationship with position coach Chuck Martin by exchanging calls and texts or by shooting around on the basketball court when time allows for it.

Golson is becoming a more vocal presence on the field, and he is making the leap in what Kelly hopes will eventually be a quarterback-driven offense.

Notre Dame finished 80th nationally in scoring offense last season, getting to 12-1 in large part on the back of the nation's No. 2 scoring defense and by minimizing the turnover chaos that had plagued it a season earlier.

"I think for me personally it's more on us, just because I expect more of us," said Golson, who netted 2,703 total yards, 18 touchdowns (12 passing, six running) and 10 turnovers while completing better than 58 percent of his throws last season.

"Last year, 2012, we didn't really make our mark. You can kind of blame it on excuses -- it was our fist year going through it -- but at the end of the day, we didn't do our job. So that's definitely an emphasis for me personally to make this offense better and have a better season."

Fifth-year left tackle Zack Martin said of Golson: "Every week he was better, and better not only on the field but in practice with the offensive line, with the other receivers. That's the stuff we see from him on a consistent basis now. We expect Everett to be out front, telling the offense what to do. We expect him to be out there, and he's done a great job this spring."

Golson was listed at 185 pounds last season but was likely 10 or so pounds lighter by the end of the season. Bulking up was deemed a point of emphasis in the months after the Jan. 7 title-game loss to Alabama and a 94-carry season. The third-year sophomore is currently listed as nine pounds shy of the goal of 195.

With Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix back for their fourth seasons, Golson knows there is little time to rest on his laurels, especially after an inaugural starting campaign that saw him get yanked three different times, leave another game with a concussion -- which forced him to miss the next game -- and miss the first series of one more contest because he was late for a meeting.

Golson might not be looking over his shoulder the way he had to a season ago, but that does not make him any less cognizant of what he has to do moving forward.

"I don't think I necessarily think about that a lot," he said. "The No. 1 [position] is only good for so much. You go out there and throw a couple picks, who knows? Maybe it's another controversy again and your job is back up. So my thing was I'll never be complacent. I never want to get complacent. Just always stay hungry and stay driven, and that's how I kind of went through this whole process."
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports The Irish are using game film and spring practice to learn from their disappointing loss to Alabama.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Bob Diaco has not seen the old Nike commercial in which Michael Jordan explains that all of his successes are direct results from his failures. But the Notre Dame defensive coordinator expressed a similar message to his players in wake of a blowout loss to Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship.

"I haven't seen the ad," Diaco said Friday morning when asked, "but what you're saying right now is exactly what I'm talking about."

After a defense that gave up less than 11 points per game in the regular season surrendered 42 to the Crimson Tide on Jan. 7, and after a unit that had allowed less than 287 yards per game was gashed for 529, the Irish defense sought lessons through film watching and exercises that pre-dated the 2012 season, as they hope to turn the page from their biggest (and only) defeat and work toward a greater triumph.

"We communicated about it in detail," Diaco said. "We watched the game probably a half-dozen times. We went back and we made notes on every single play. You walk out of the game and you were absolutely defeated, demoralized, dejected, just like I'm sure everyone in the world that's a Notre Dame person felt. We all felt the same 100 times. But after you have a chance to inspect it, then the reality of it was, it wasn't just an absolute push around. We had a misfit here or there, a miscommunication here or there, a missing lineman here or there. Then, we were faced defensively with a challenge that we really hadn't been faced with — that's a bang-bang-bang score.

"So now there's a feeling of, you're exasperated, and you want to make the play. And it's all out of great intentions, but all of a sudden, your eyes are wandering, your feet are happy, you're misaligned and it just starts to snowball from there, and it's hard to get it back on track. It's good to watch and be able to show the players and the staff on each particular play, 'Hey, if this changes, this is what'll be the result.'"

Diaco said he had the defense study the personalities of Dan Gable, Nelson Mandela, Father Theodore Hesburgh and Carl Brashear before the season, with the story of Gable providing a narrative he hopes can take shape throughout 2013.

Gable, the Iowa wrestling coach when Diaco was a linebacker at the school, suffered his only collegiate loss in his finale at Iowa State before bouncing back to win the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics without surrounding a single point.

"The lessons learned in that propelled him to go on and win Olympic gold," Diaco said. "The unit needs to understand those lessons. We've got to make sure that that moment right there is really our greatest moment. We have to turn it into our greatest strength. An understanding of what we need to do, an opportunity for everyone to sharpen the blade, so to speak, on their knife moving forward. It has to be viewed that way."

That starts with 15 practices this spring — two of which are in the books — while trying to channel thoughts of what-could-have-been into something to build on moving forward.

"The worst part from our standpoint is we never even got into our game plan," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said of the title game. "We were unfortunately a three-and-out, a six-and-out and OK, now we're in catch-up mode and a lot of the things we would've liked to try to do, I guess if we could've done them or not we'll never know, but a lot of these were kind of out the window."
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Chuck Martin pleaded ignorance Friday when asked about Alabama's offensive line. The Notre Dame offensive coordinator only sees the Tide's top-ranked rushing defense -- and he has little to add to the growing narrative that the Alabama offensive line his Irish will face in Monday's Discover BCS National Championship is among the best in college football history.

"I'd say our offensive line is much more concerned with Alabama's very good defensive line," Martin said. "I would say we probably don't know a lot about what's been written about Alabama's offensive line. They’ve got their own set of issues dealing with the big boys on the other side of the ball."

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Chuck Martin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin's line has steadily improved since struggling in the home opener against Purdue.
For the Irish's front, that will be one final challenge on its steady climb toward a perfect season.

Notre Dame surrendered five sacks in its home-opening nailbiter against Purdue. By the end of their first month of games, the Irish ranked 87th nationally rushing the ball, averaging 140.25 yards per outing.

Flash forward three months, and those numbers paint a different picture: Notre Dame has surrendered just 11 sacks in the 10 games since beating the Boilermakers, good for 28th-fewest nationally. Their rushing average has risen to 29th overall, at 202.5 yards per game.

Getting on the same page with a first-year starting quarterback in Everett Golson has been part of that surge. Getting accustomed to new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand likely has been, too.

Alabama surrenders just 79.77 rushing yards per game and 2.46 yards per carry. Notre Dame's line has paved the way for a pair of 700-plus-yard rushers in Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.

“I think collectively they will be the toughest defensive line we face," left tackle and captain Zack Martin said of the Tide. "We have played some talented players, but collectively Alabama is the most talented. They are big, physical and have guys that can stop the run. They can also get after the quarterback, so we will have to be on our game.”

“They are similar to our defense, which we see every day," he added. "They have big D-linemen who can stop the run and rush the passer. Also, Alabama has mobile linebackers who can make big plays and an active secondary, so very similar to our defense. We will have to be ready.”
DAVIE, Fla. — Everett Golson was much more vocal Thursday than he was in fall camp, naturally. That was one of the first things that jumped out during the media's first viewing of Notre Dame practice since August.

Here are a few other notes and observations from Nova Southeastern University — the practice facility of the Miami Dolphins — as media members were allowed to watch the first 15 minutes, which consisted mostly of tempo drills. (Defense was on an opposite field, so the offense received most of the visitors' attention.)
  • DaVaris Daniels looks pretty much recovered from the broken left clavicle he suffered Nov. 10 at Boston College, as he was active throughout. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin jumped on the redshirt freshman at one point, telling him if his running wasn't better on a particular route, then the Irish would have no chance.
  • Freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel, normally No. 1, was wearing a No. 10 jersey to play the role of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron on the scout team.
  • Head coach Brian Kelly alluded to depth concerns on the offensive line, and he wasn't kidding. The second-team offensive line consisted, from left to right, of Nick Martin, Conor Hanratty, Mark Harrell, Bruce Heggie and an unidentified walk-on wearing No. 76. (Hanratty and Harrell were both wearing No. 65, too.) Tate Nichols (knee) and Ronnie Stanley (elbow) have been out, as has Matt Hegarty for a non-football medical issue.

Golson grows under Martin

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The spotlight found Everett Golson, however badly Chuck Martin wanted to shield his rookie quarterback.

Here was Golson, three starts into his career, leading Notre Dame to a prime-time road victory against the nation's No. 10 team, his first-quarter scramble and 36-yard touchdown heave to John Goodman popping up on highlight shows throughout the Irish's undefeated season.

"That kind of overshadowed the rest of the game, where in his mind he knew he didn't play great at Michigan State," Martin, the Irish's offensive coordinator, said of Golson. "The whole world thought he played great at Michigan State, but in his mind he was not" satisfied.

Fast-forward six weeks later, to Golson's next prime-time road start against a top-10 opponent.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame QB Everett Golson has seen a "rocky" relationship with coordinator Chuck Martin blossom.
"He left the field at Oklahoma feeling like, 'Hey, I really played my tail off tonight for four quarters in a hostile environment,'" Martin said. "I think up to then he knew he did a lot of great things in all the games and a lot of things that he needs to continue to work on. I think he kind of felt like he played a complete game, and had the confidence from there that, I can do this at this level, at a very high level, all the time."

The peak of those planes comes Jan. 7 against defending champion Alabama, which boasts the nation's top rush defense and will almost surely force the redshirt freshman quarterback to attempt several big plays with his arm.

"We're going to have to throw the football," head coach Brian Kelly said. "We're going to have to find some big chunk plays. He's going have to be integral in that. He knows that and we know that. I think Alabama knows that, too."

That Oct. 27 night against the No. 8 Sooners served notice that Golson could handle the big stage, that, for a first-year player with upward of 40 starts remaining in an Irish uniform, it is never too soon for defining moments.

His 50-yard pass to freshman Chris Brown illustrated that, setting up the go-ahead touchdown in a final frame that Notre Dame turned into a public proclamation of its return to on-field relevance.

"I'm not the type that really succumbs to pressure, I guess," Golson said. "I don't make any moment bigger than what it is. To me, it's about that game that is played between the lines. It's not necessarily about what's going on around it. At the end of the day, it's about, on Jan. 7, about playing Alabama."

When Golson was still competing for the starting job back in camp, Martin had to convince the 19-year-old that recess was over, that he had to trust in what the staff was telling him.

The trial-and-error session played right into the somewhat backward philosophy that has guided Martin's 27 years of coaching: The players never believe you until they try it your way and it doesn't work.

"It doesn't matter what your resume looks like or how much success you have," said Martin, who moved over from safeties coach this year. "They had success in high school and they're going to try it exactly like they did in high school, which is pretty much like recess. And then you get to college and you try to do some different things and they still will fight you, fight you.

"And then when they've exhausted their way and it stinks, usually then it's like, OK, I know you've been saying this for weeks, but what exactly did you say I was supposed to be doing? And that's every position I've ever coached, and that's really every team I've ever coached. They like it to be easier than it is, and it's never that easy out there."

Added Golson: "Our relationship has definitely evolved. It started off from what I thought was a little rocky -- I think that was just me being young and inexperienced, couldn't really see the bigger picture at the beginning. But he's really kind of stuck with me and really developed me."

After the Week 3 triumph in East Lansing, Martin wanted to hide Golson from the cameras, knowing what he saw was far from a finished product. As he often would early this season, Martin jabbed the signal-caller afterward, telling him: Dude, you stink. Golson came to expect the message from the convivial coach, nodding his head knowingly before explaining what he needed to work on.

After the Oklahoma game, their exchange was far less complicated.

"I looked at him and I was like: That was pretty darn good," Martin said, adding, "He's a sharp kid, so he knew all along. I was just trying to keep him away from you guys because you kept telling him how great he was."

Notre Dame: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
11:00
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The first month of the season is in the books. Let's revisit some of it, and look at what October could bring us.

Best

1. Notre Dame is 4-0. This is a big deal. The Irish have not had a 4-0 start since 2002. They have beaten three of the Big Ten's better teams (sly word choice there, eh?) and have put themselves in a good position to make a run at a BCS game.

2. The defense has been phenomenal. We knew the defense would be good. But this good? No. 3 scoring defense in the country (9 points per game) good? With an early-season Heisman contender at linebacker and a pass-rusher as lethal as any in the country? Check out this stat unearthed yesterday by media relations director John Heisler: Notre Dame is now the only FBS football team in the country that has never trailed in a game so far in 2012.

3. The turnover margin. Want the biggest reason the Irish are undefeated? Look no further than their plus-2.25 turnover margin, third in the nation. The defense has forced 13 turnovers in four games, one shy of its season total from 2011. And more importantly, the offense has protected the ball, giving it away just four times this season. (It had five turnovers in each of its first two games last season.)

Worst

1. The quarterback situation is unsettled. Everett Golson has shown flashes of potential here and there, and he was a terrific game manager in both of the Irish's road contests. But he looked overwhelmed by the stage against Michigan, and Tommy Rees came in to save the day for the second time. The Irish are winning, so there's not much room to complain, but there is plenty of room for improvement from the quarterback of the future, regardless of how well Rees plays when he is in.

2. Little help from receiving unit. Defenses have wisely focused on Tyler Eifert, leaving the best tight end in America with just one catch over the past two games. No one has stepped up to make the plays with Eifert covered, leaving much room for the passing game as a whole. DaVaris Daniels, who left one game with an ankle sprain and barely played in another, leads the team with 159 receiving yards on the season.

3. Injury bug. The secondary will eventually be tested. Losing a fifth-year senior such as Jamoris Slaughter makes that eventual test all the more difficult. Make no mistake, the three starting newcomers, particularly Bennett Jackson, have done everything the Irish could have hoped for so far. Zeke Motta has emerged as a leader. But Slaughter's versatility is a big loss, and Notre Dame can't just rely on its front seven to be so dominant in every game this season.

Top storylines in October

1. Can the Irish run the table? Hey, they've done it so far. And it's easy for many to look ahead and think of a possible 7-0 Notre Dame team entering Norman, Okla., on Oct. 27. The daunting schedule looks far less daunting, and the Irish have every reason so far to feel that they can win every game. But they also have enough shortcomings that have kept them from running away in games they should win easily, so there is little margin for error against every October opponent.

2. Will the offense come through when needed? Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin made the point that the offense has delivered when called upon so far: against Purdue and against Michigan. But if the defense doesn't play at the same insanely high level it has so far, will the offense be consistent enough for four quarters to pick everyone up? Eventually the Irish will be tested to win a game with their offense, not in spite of it, and development there over the next month is crucial.

3. Quarterback situation. Check back next month, though I don't think this section will change.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Chuck Martin likes the chemistry of his quarterback group through the first-third of the season. Just don't bother asking Notre Dame's offensive coordinator about any big-picture plans.

"I have no idea," Martin, speaking for the first time this season, said Wednesday. "If you've got a crystal ball and you could tell me, that would be awesome. We're all just trying to figure out a way to beat Miami. The plan for the future is to try to figure out what's going to shake down. I believe we've got four good quarterbacks, which obviously one quarterback plays at a time so to me, I don't know.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Chuck Martin
AP Photo/Joe RaymondSpeaking about Notre Dame's QB situation, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said: "I wouldn't have predicted the first four games would've went this way."
"I wouldn't have predicted the first four games would've went this way. We played two different quarterbacks in every game. ... We're 4-0. We're doing everything we can to try to win the game, I guess. We'll figure out what's going to happen at Miami, then we'll see what happens at Miami and move forward from there."

Martin isn't too worried about Everett Golson losing confidence after being pulled for Tommy Rees in both of the Irish's home games. The fact that head coach Brian Kelly has started Golson over three other talented options is all the validation one needs, Martin said, and the growing pains his No. 1 signal caller has suffered are not uncommon for a redshirt freshman.

"Keep accentuating all the good things he's done, because he's played a lot of snaps, he's done a lot of good things," Martin said of Golson. "We said from Day 1, 'You're not going to be a great quarterback as a freshman. It's very rare [a freshman's] great all the time. You might be great in spurts or great on plays or great for a period of time, or even a whole game you might have a complete great game.' But just to play, there's so many new experiences for him."

The fast-talking Martin said the offense is still searching for consistent execution in all phases, though he's less concerned with establishing a true identity than he is with some of the younger players not showing the same sense of urgency early in games as they have lately.

"The good thing so far is the only time we've really had to throw the ball was the two-minute drive against Purdue and we did it when we had to," Martin said, "and the only two times we've had to run the ball was the fourth quarter of two games against two good opponents and we've grinded the clock pretty good."
Brian Kelly re-enforced Sunday that Everett Golson is his starting quarterback, but the decision to put Tommy Rees in for Saturday's final drive had little to do with Golson's thumb injury.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Matt Cashore/US PresswireEverett Golson put up good numbers (21-of-31 for 289 yards, 1 TD) before leaving the game.
"I had already begun the conversation with Coach [Chuck] Martin about installing Tommy into that situation, so the knowledge of running our two-minute trumped any kind of injury that he may have had," Kelly said during a teleconference. "Now, it contributed at the end to make it an easier decision for me."

Kelly again used a pitching analogy to describe his quarterbacks' roles, though he was careful not to peg Rees as his "two-minute" guy should a similar situation arise in the future.

"I don't see it as a role, I see it as if we feel like Tommy can help us win a game or he can come in a situation where we believe its the right fit, then he'll be prepared to do so," Kelly said. "I used this baseball analogy: We like our starters to finish the game. We want them to go all nine innings. Occasionally we might need some help. Maybe we need long relief, maybe we need short relief. I don't want to take anything off the table but we'd like our starter to start it and finish it."

Injury/personnel updates: Odds and ends:

  • Asked if he has a No. 1 running back with Cierre Wood back in the fold, Kelly said: "Yes, Theo Riddick."
  • Justin Ferguson will wear No. 82 for the rest of the season. Notre Dame was penalized (Purdue declined) during a first-half kickoff Saturday because the freshman wideout, who was No. 15, was on the field at the same time as senior Dan McCarthy, also No. 15. Ferguson changed to No. 82 at halftime. Alex Welch, out for the year (ACL), was No. 82 before.
  • Kelly elaborated on why he allowed only Te'o and Zack Martin to speak to reporters after the game: "I had to do what I thought was in the best interests of the team. At times that might put me at odds with you guys, and I understand that. Last night I thought it was best for our team to have a couple captains speak and I'll just leave it at that."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Chuck Martin received a late Christmas gift after he moved from safeties coach to offensive coordinator. The gift, former linebacker Troy Niklas, received a chance to play with an All-America tight end. That tight end, Tyler Eifert, received more responsibilities after he decided to return to Notre Dame.

Just how much more the tight ends will be utilized in the Irish's offense remains to be seen. But don't bother asking Martin if he can make it work with multiple tight ends, as the abundance of talent at the position -- Alex Welch and Ben Koyack are also capable options -- presents a good problem for the offense to work out.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Tyler Eifert
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIREAll-America tight end Tyler Eifert is spending the offseason learning every receiver position.
"Everyone's like 'Are you going to go two tight ends?' I don't even think in those terms," Martin said. "When I learned offense from Coach [Brian] Kelly back when I was an assistant the first time, it was like, personnel's for fans and media. Like, if Eifert's flexed out is he a Y or a Z? I don't know, you can call him whatever you want. He's just playing there, you know? And [he has] pass-catching ability, which we all know is unbelievable. So they can think you're in two tight ends, let them think we're in two tight ends.

"Eifert could be at Z or X or W, he could be a running back. We've got a package where Eifert can play running back. I don't know if we'll hand him the ball ever, but he could be our running back and throw the ball to him."

A junior season that featured more catches (63) and receiving yards (803) than every other FBS tight end has only led to a bigger challenge for Eifert, who is charged with learning every receiver position for his senior year.

It is not quite the intensive pre-draft process Eifert could have been undergoing this spring had he declared for the NFL, but it is not exactly the typical spring for a returning senior starter, either.

"All last year I knew what I was doing pretty much every play, and I knew what most of the guys were doing," Eifert said. "But it's been a little challenging having to learn, first time I've had to learn some stuff in quite a while, as far as concepts go."

Another addition to those duties has been helping with the transition of Niklas, nicknamed "Hercules" for his 6-foot-7, 252-pound frame. The former high school tight end actually started one game last season as a freshman outside linebacker before the offseason move, which he believes presents him with a higher upside.

Mastering in-line blocking has been his first course of duty.

"The biggest thing about the transition is that I guess I know what the defense is trying to do," Niklas said. "So of course I've played that outside linebacker position, I know coverages, I know different defensive philosophies that I think will help me in film study and getting open and all that kind of stuff."

New tight ends coach Scott Booker has been open to both the possibilities and the number of tight ends Notre Dame could put on the field at the same time. Seeing teams such as Stanford and the NFL's Patriots have successful offenses revolve around the tight end position has certainly presented workable models.

And that could mean the good problem of Notre Dame's offense turning into a bad one for opposing defenses.

"It's one thing if the guy's a blocker and this guy's a catcher. They're kind of 'That guy's a tight end, he becomes a wideout,' I get that," Martin said. "But if they can both block and catch, which I think we have the ability to do that, then it causes major issues for the defense, because they don't know what personnel we're in. We do everything defensively based on personnel. Twelve personnel, two tight ends on the field. Eleven personnel, one tight end.

"In our whole game plan, we have our 12 game plan and our 11 game plan, not only do you come in and say Eifert and Koyack are out at the same time and we're actually running 12 formations and 11 formations, then what do you do as a defense? As a guy who thinks he knows a little bit about defense, it's not fun, picking basically [a] game plan for 12 because you have to, and then they come out in 11 and you're not really in what you want to be in."

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